Conflict Resolution

Calculating the Cost of Conflict

What behaviours do you feel or see when dealing with conflict? Many of us would say there are so many, ‘where do you want me to start?’. Some are subtle, some very obvious.

There are two major signs of conflict that are often hidden or deemed normal. These chinks in our armour can be hard to find and even more challenging to resolve. I would argue they are very costly; certainly not to be expected or indeed accepted in business.

So how do we address differences that separate us rather than bind us? Feeling indifferent will be at your cost – hugely impacting the bottom (or perhaps more importantly) the top line of your spreadsheet. Often performance based, these figures are scary.

The two silent volcanoes are avoidance and with-holding information – heat often simmering under the surface waiting to erupt. Staff would rather walk twice the distance than past someone’s desk. Holding back valuable information is often part of power play.

Have you ever been confused – knowing you have all the right processes in place, everyone appears to be pulling together yet balls are being dropped. Staffs are smiling and nodding in the right places yet there is underlying conflict flowing like acid on your good works.

 “If war is the violent resolution of conflict, then peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather, the ability to resolve conflict without violence.”  C.T. Lawrence Butler

I believe confrontation is a life skill – it can be taught to those who don’t find it easy. 99.9% of the time people do things for a positive reason. We don’t condone inappropriate behavior and we do need to apologise when we get it wrong. This happened to me last month. I saw a lovely lady looking radiant holding her tummy, speaking to an equally lovely gent. When they finished their conversation I went over smiling asking him is she was expecting. His affirmative answer led me to congratulate her ….how wrong could I have been. I sincerely apologised and she very gracefully accepted. It could have been so different.

A few years ago I delivered three, 1 hour morning presentations in the chapel of a very well known Horsham school. All teachers & students attended. The subject was bullying. I talked about the power of 3: the bully; victim and by-stander. Whether we like it or not all 3 are involved, albeit unwittingly, so have to take responsibility for their actions and decision-making. In the afternoon the whole school showed great wisdom meeting in smaller groups, debating further and drawing up a revised bullying policy.

Going back to my situation the 3 of us all acted in shock. I have heard it said we reveal our true personalities either when we are drunk or stressed – if true, we came out quite well.

In business bullying is often the elephant in the room – ‘we don’t have that here’ sometimes brushing it under the carpet. No one talks about it. (I believe every work place should have its own policy, which everyone signs.)

So how can you deal with conflict?

Teaching staff confrontation skills is key. As humans our auto-response is to fight or flight. It is our way to move away from danger and toward reward or pleasure. Creating a better understanding of how to manage our relationship with others and ourselves (emotional intelligence) can really enhance better communication – reducing the seeping lava of conflict.

One of the best pieces of advise I was given was by an ex headmistress. Our son appeared to be in conflict at school with me doing all I could to support the establishment.

Her advice empowered me swivel on my heels. Astutely she advised me to let the school discipline him – I was not to be involved.

Wow – this was new. I didn’t undermine the school, just every time he spoke I sympathised saying, “If what you tell me is true…”. This way I could listen and he now didn’t feel isolated. Her reasons made sense – no doubt drawn from years of experience. In our case the school was at fault too. Authority had blinded me.

So my final thoughts:

  • Be slow to take offence – we never really know what others are dealing with
  • When you are down, exercise A1 behaviour – you are preparing to bounce high when the tide turns
  • Remember the power of 3 – any 1 lie has to be supported by 2 lies
  • Speak as you find
  • Gossip is like acid – see good in others, it is your own reflection
  • Carry the wounded – shoot the stragglers J

and lastly, “An abnormal response to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour.” Viktor Frankl